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Environment

Trees with character - for a very biodiverse Christmas

What if cutting down your Christmas tree were good for biodiversity? Grown without fertilizers or pesticides, here's an eco-friendly alternative to the mass-produced trees we're used to from plantations.

A campaign in Bonn, Germany, offers the public "special" Christmas trees in exchange for donations to charity. Ahead of Christmas, DW interviewed an agricultural engineer associated with the project at the botanical gardens of Bonn University.

DW: Now these Christmas trees are not just any old Christmas trees, right? They have not been grown especially for the Christmas market?

Simon Keelan: Yes, they're very special trees. We remove them where they have to be removed - for instance as in the case of forest conversion. When you want to turn conifer forest into deciduous forest, you have to remove the conifers, and that's what we do. Or on fallow grasslands, the trees have to be removed, to support the adapted fauna and flora of grasslands.

When you say "we" - you mean you personally, and a few friends go out and physically cut down the trees?

Well actually a group of students go out on the Thursday before the weekend before Christmas, and they cut the trees and bring them to Bonn.

Is it a lot of hard work, or just lots of fun?

Well, both - a lot of hard work and fun too. A group of 40 to 50 people, they had a lot of fun. It's in the Eifel region, which is a great landscape, we bring food, it's quite a funny thing.

Forest, agricultural land and meadow in Germany's Eifel region (DW)

Forest, agricultural land and meadow in Germany's Eifel region

What kind of people come here to pick up trees? They come in, pick up trees, bring them a home for a week or so and then, hopefully, give you a generous donation.

Yes, I think it's a growing community here in Bonn who want to live more sustainably. And we provide sustainable Christmas trees.

The common Christmas tree is cultivated in plantations - there's a lot of pesticides and fertilizers and soil cultivation, comparable to arable land or field crops. And our Christmas trees aren't planted and cultivated at all. They might look a bit crazy because of that.

There are all shapes and sizes, not quite as regulated as the usual ones?

Not regulated at all. Some people search for a tree that fits in the corner of a small flat, or fits on the wall, or even look for that special tree with two pints, where you can put an angel and a star on top. And they find these trees here.

Some are a bit crooked or twisted, some have two tops, even. They're trees with character, I think.

Deutschland Nachhaltige Weihnachtsbäume (DW/K. Kersken)

The trees appeal to those who want an environmentally friendly Christmas, and perhaps something a little out of the ordinary

What happens to the money that gets donated?

This year, we'll support a fundraising group who care for children who suffer from cancer and leukaemia, and an organization that looks after birds of prey - among others.

Last year we gave away about 500 trees. It's only spruce and pine, not the typical fir tree one might expect, because we remove them from the forests.

Have you a favorite yourself? 

Well, I do love the pine tree, because it doesn't shed needles at all. And it smells very good. And when there are cones on it, they open at room temperature. So it's a very special Christmas tree, although different-looking.

How much money do you think you will bring in for charity from the handing over of the trees?

Right, we hand over the trees for free. People can donate, they don't have to. So a single parent or unemployed person can get a tree here. Last year, we made about 11,000 euros to donate to charity.

Deutschland Nachhaltige Weihnachtsbäume (DW/K. Kersken)

Anyone can pick up a tree for free but donations are encouraged, and support a range of charities

And this year so far? You have only just started.

The first day, we made about 4,500 euros. So let's see where it goes.

Which tree would you recommend to me?

I would recommend a pine, these come from grassland which in nature conservation areas. So you support orchids and rare plants in the Eifel, when taking a pine.

This one looks good, unusual … looks natural!

These pines are not the typical Christmas tree, but always a good topic of conversation at your Christmas dinner!

In his free time, agricultural engineer Simon Keelan heads an association of alumni of Bonn University on the subject nature conservation and landscape ecology and agriculture.

The interview was conducted by Irene Quaile.

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